Lately I’ve been watching quite a lot of TV, and 90% of it has been about the dark twists and turns of psychological horror. There’s rage, there’s blood, and sometimes there is unearthly quiet. Midnight Mass from Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor) may look and feel like the latter with its small, muted cast that lives on the island of Crockett, but underneath its religious sanctions and quiet words are people who deal with a number of things: hatred, alcoholism, child abuse, and yes, even homophobia. There is near silence in the everyday life of Crockett, and yet there is so much anger.
My interest in this miniseries spins off in a lot of directions, so I won’t waste time in telling you why I liked how it handled religion – just read IGN’s Jared Petty’s op-ed on it to find out more – and instead will direct you to something that’s only brought up a couple of times in Midnight Mass: homophobia.
The first real instance where homophobia is alluded to in the show is in Episode 2. There’s a lot of pettiness and downright cruelty to be found in Crockett, but the second episode, in particular, doesn’t hold back. So it’s no surprise that when we’re introduced to Crockett’s doctor, Sarah Gunning and her nameless romantic partner – a woman at that – we take the looks thrown their way as thinly-veiled homophobia.
One look comes from a newcomer to the island, Father Paul. He is first introduced as the replacement of Crockett’s previous priest, and despite a few shortcomings at first, the way he looks and his love of the Christian faith make him ease into the hegemonic Crockett life like a well-worn shoe. He is accepted due to who he is, whereas Sarah – despite her use as the village doctor – is considered an outsider the same way as various other characters, such as Sheriff Hassan, recovering alcoholic Riley, the runaway Erin, and the hunter, Joe.
However, Midnight Mass turns our expectations of the religious faith – and those who worship in the first place – on its head by later revealing why Father Paul has a particular interest in Sarah in the first place and spoiler: it isn’t because of homophobia. It’s because Sarah is Father Paul’s daughter. Because even vampire priests deserve offspring, y’know?
In the show’s defence, the reveal of Sarah’s link to the Father doesn’t feel particularly mean-spirited towards the viewer or Sarah for thinking it has something to do with homophobia. After all, Midnight Mass looks heavily at religion and how to effectively use its presence to warp the minds of people – for better or for worse. And while it’s made clear that religion itself is not the root of the evil, its text is often used to attack queer minds and bodies, twisting them into something they aren’t, or breaking them down completely.
That’s why it feels so important that there’s never a ‘gotcha!’ moment between Sarah and the Father. If anything, it’s a gut-wrenching realization that a misunderstanding has caused them to be on alert around one another rather than hatred and disgust. It makes their small time together feel all that more significant.
Circumstance, prejudice (justified or not) and misunderstanding causes a good twist to be a great one and the way Midnight Mass handled it felt respectful, not cheap and shows the skill of Flanagan’s direction for this disturbing, but thrilling show.